Solidarity with Young People, Challenging Youth Homelessness: Focus Ireland Youth Services and Advocacy

Author: Adam Spollen & Haley Curran

In recognition of UN International Youth Day, this blog will highlight the risks faced by certain young people in terms of homelessness and housing insecurity, and the supports and services Focus Ireland is providing to address them. The theme for this year’s International Youth Day is ‘Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages’. In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the full potential of all generations needs to be leveraged. Critical to this is solidarity across age groups.

Focus Ireland Youth Services and the Focus Ireland Advocacy team work together to challenge youth homelessness. This is done by directly supporting young people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness, as well as advocating for the necessary policy change to address the pathways towards youth homelessness, and for the provision of housing-led solutions for young people. Every young person deserves the opportunity to establish an independent life, with safe and secure accommodation that they can call home.

Figures recently published by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) show that 1,246 18-24 year olds accessed emergency accommodation in June 2022, a 60% increase since June 2021. Of all age groups, young people are most vulnerable, with specific groups of young people more at risk than others. Young people who have a history of state care, a migrant background, or those who identify as LGBTQI+ may be more vulnerable to housing precarity and homelessness. The trauma inflicted by homelessness can have long lasting effects on the development of young people, negatively impacting their chances of a successful transition to  independent adulthood.

It must also be highlighted that young people in this age cohort are the most likely to experience forms of ‘hidden homelessness’, such as couch-surfing or staying in insecure, sometimes unsafe, temporary arrangements with friends or family. This means that a significant number of young people, in addition to the 1,246 reported above, remain uncaptured by official figures and out of reach of support services. The prevalence of this phenomenon has been found in research in an Irish context by Mayock and Sheridan and Quilty and Norris, as well as in other jurisdictions such as Scotland and Canada.

Young people have been found to be less likely to engage with homeless services due to feelings of fear and discomfort associated with adult homeless services, among other issues. Young people who identify as LGBTQI+ may also not engage with services due to their gender or sexual identity and fears for their safety, with the potential risk of homophobia and transphobia in these services. However, Focus Ireland Youth Services work tirelessly to engage with young people at risk of, or currently experiencing youth homelessness at the earliest opportunity before issues become critical or entrenched, to disrupt a potential life-cycle of accessing homeless services. The successful outcomes of Focus Ireland’s youth services demonstrate how we can end youth homelessness with the right targeted interventions, and housing-led solutions.

Focus Ireland Youth Services

Focus Ireland Youth Services supported 410 young people in 2021, and have already supported 342 between January and June of this year, through a range of dedicated youth services, including; Aftercare; Residential Aftercare; Family Mediation; Day Services; Youth Housing; Housing First for Youth (HF4Y); and, Crisis Intervention services. These services involve preventative measures targeted towards those most at risk, housing solutions which include wraparound supports to ensure the young person’s transition to a safe, secure, and independent adulthood, as well as emergency responses for those experiencing crises.

Focus Ireland does not believe the solution to youth homelessness lies with age-appropriate emergency accommodation only, we have long advocated for the prevention of homelessness in the first place where possible, coupled with the provision of secure and affordable accommodation. The solutions should involve targeted interventions, as opposed to managing homelessness in shelters or emergency accommodation. It is for that reason our Youth Services address the youth-specific pathways towards homelessness with early intervention and develop innovative housing solutions for the unique needs of young people and their personal development.

Focus Ireland Aftercare, provided on behalf of Tusla, offers specialised 1:1 support addressing the individual needs of the young person leaving care, including the need for accommodation, as young care leavers are disproportionately affected by youth homelessness. In North Dublin and South Dublin, Focus Ireland Aftercare supported 216 young people, while 44 young people were provided Aftercare support in Waterford and Wexford. Those in the Southeast avail of Aftercare support via the HF4Y model, a housing-led intervention.

Focus Ireland also offers a Family Mediation service to intervene where relationship issues are likely to result in a young person becoming homeless, or where the relationship has temporarily broken down and a young person is accessing homeless services. Family relationship breakdown, or care placement breakdown, has been identified as a significant pathway towards youth homelessness. The mediation service has achieved success in preventing crisis instances of youth homelessness and reintegrating young people back into the family home, repairing relationships with their care givers, in cases where it is safe to do so. Focus Ireland research has found that this pathway disproportionately affects LGBTQI+ young people, often following the disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity. This pathway has also been shown to disproportionately affect young parents, as overcrowding in the family home may lead to tension and potential relationship breakdown.

Focus Ireland believes in housing-led solutions for young people, such as HF4Y. Housing First is acknowledged internationally as best practice in addressing homelessness effectively. It is a housing-led approach which combines accommodation with wraparound supports based on the individual needs of the customer. HF4Y utilises Housing First principles in a rights-based intervention for young people, facilitating their journey to independent adulthood with safe and secure accommodation. In Waterford, Focus Ireland HF4Y has worked with 51 young people and has achieved a tenancy sustainment rate of 84% with zero discharges into homelessness. The programme provides individualised supports in areas such as education, and employment, as well as practical living skills, positively influencing their emotional, cognitive, and social development.

Focus Ireland Advocacy

Supporting the work of Focus Ireland Youth Services in the effort to challenge youth homelessness, the Focus Ireland Advocacy team works towards structural change. Using research and successful service provision, we highlight the evidenced pathways towards youth homelessness, and present the most effective ways to prevent and challenge youth homelessness to Government stakeholders.

The Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, which Focus Ireland is a member of, has long called for a National Youth Homelessness Strategy. The Coalition’s successful End Youth Homelessness campaign in 2019 called for such a strategy, and this was included in the Programme for Government 2020. Continued advocacy ensured the strategy’s inclusion in Housing for All in 2021, the Government’s new housing plan to 2030.

This year, we contributed to the Coalition’s submission to the consultation on a Youth Homelessness Strategy, calling for evidence led preventative measures and housing solutions which take into account the unique needs of young people experiencing homelessness. Focus Ireland also made an individual submission which highlighted the lessons learned from years of Youth Services provision. This advocacy work led to the Coalition being invited to present to DHLGH to contribute to the development of the Youth Homelessness Strategy, at which Focus Ireland representatives highlighted  valuable insights into youth homelessness as touched on in this blog. .

We will continue to engage with the Department as part of the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness as we work to contribute further to this strategy, which has the potential to make an enormous difference to the lives of vulnerable young people across Ireland.




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